Daniel Gafford’s Role Change Shows Wizards’ Trouble Balancing the Rotation – NBC4 Washington

Gafford’s role shows Wizards struggle to balance rotation originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — Daniel Gafford has been a mainstay as the Wizards’ starting center this season and, judging by the three-year contract extension he received in October, he represents their future in that role. Yet in the last five games he has seen his playing time fall off a cliff.

This coincided with the return of center Thomas Bryant after a year-long absence due to ACL surgery, but that alone doesn’t explain the change. While he is averaging 21.7 minutes per game for the whole season, Gafford has only averaged 11.8 minutes in the last five games. And most remarkable of all, he hasn’t appeared in the fourth quarter of any of the last four.

The coaching staff, which featured three different head coaches during this period due to health and safety protocols, essentially walked away from Gafford in the final stretch. After Friday’s loss to the Raptors, interim head coach Joseph Blair (who coached three of the games) said he opted for Montrezl Harrell in the fourth quarter because of the energy he brings to the offensive end.

The previous game, Gafford had struggled to defend LaMarcus Aldridge in the pick-and-roll. With three centers in the Wizards’ rotation, the margin for error is slimmer than it has been for most of the season. This apparent surplus reflects a new situation for the team as a whole. With the return of Bryant and Rui Hachimura, the Wizards have plenty of depth to sort through in various places.

“It’s been a bit of a process. We have a big three rotation going on so we’re still trying to work out the minutes. The main thing for me is trying not to get frustrated with that,” Gafford said.

Gafford said all the right things about it. He made no apologies or even hinted at his displeasure. He said he had to be better and stay ready for this opportunity.

Gafford also expressed his support for his teammates playing in his place down the stretch.

“Playing time is not promised. Playing time can happen and it can’t happen. At the end of the day, I just want to do what it takes to be able to help the team win. If it’s is me sitting on the sidelines and cheering on the guys, I will for sure,” he said.

Gafford is focused on what he can control and handing out playing time is not his job. It’s on head coach Wes Unseld Jr. now that he’s back from health and safety protocols.

Unseld Jr. explained the team’s thinking as they operate with what is essentially an 11-man rotation at the moment.

“We’ll have to go back to a 9 1/2 man rotation where hopefully they can find a rhythm when they’re out there,” Unseld Jr said.

Finding a rhythm certainly seems like a challenge, as a host of players are only offered a 10-15 minute playing time. Gafford, for example, has averaged just 3.6 field goal attempts over the past five games.

Part of what stands out from Gafford’s inconsistent role, however, is that he has put up some good numbers during his brief spell on the pitch in recent games. Against the Magic on Jan. 12, he had eight points on 4-on-4 shooting in 16 minutes before being retired. He had eight points in 12 minutes against the Nets and Raptors. The problem with him staying on the floor, obviously, has to be defensive.

Unseld Jr. explained how part of it is beyond Gafford’s control. There are strict minute restrictions for Bryant and Hachimura which also function as requirements. They have to play, basically, because they’ve been away for so long.

“There’s no other way to integrate these guys than to have them go through this,” Unseld Jr said.

The Wizards coach added that this element and finding out other elements regarding their rotation, such as the best formations to play, is part of a process they would rather go through now rather than later in the year when ” the games are really starting to ramp up.” Although he hasn’t set a date, he hopes to “shrink” the rotation before the Wizards reach the home stretch and battle for playoff seeding.

It’s a work in progress and it affects some players differently. Gafford is among those dealing with adverse effects.

Rebecca R. Santistevan